Thursday, December 4, 2008

Where did Christmas begin?

As I shared with you all a couple of weeks ago, I am doing an advent study on Christmas. Last night's topic was called "Myths and Legends of Christmas". I found out some really interesting things about how Christmas started and thought I would share it with you all.

A long time ago pagan people held celebrations around the Winter Solstice. Different area's had different celebrations. The Feast of Saturnalia in early Rome, for example, was celebrated for 7 days from the 17th to the 24th of December and was marked by a spirit of merriment, gift giving to children and other forms of entertainment. Other accounts describe it as a festival of debauchery where people were given to drunkenness, licentiousness and caroling naked.

A couple of different accounts tell how Christians came to celebrate Christmas during this time. One says that while trying to win people over to Christ, people would argue that if they became Christians, they wouldn't be able to celebrate their festivals any longer. So, the Christians of the time decided to transform the rituals of the festival to fit a more Christian way of life. Another one says that the Christians began Christmas to combat the winter solstice festivals.

It wasn’t until 320 AD that Pope Julius I declared December 25 to be the official birthday of Jesus Christ - the birth of the invincible son (to combat the pagan worship of their sun god). In 325 AD, Constantine the Great (the first emperor to become a Christian), declared December 25 to be Christmas. It began showing up on Roman calendars in 336 AD.

I also found it very interesting to learn that in Colonial America, Christmas wasn't universally celebrated as it is today. As a matter of fact in some colonies, it was just another working day. It took a while for all of the colonies to recognize Christmas as an official holiday.Congress proclaimed Christmas a federal holiday in 1870.

There are many arguments out there about why we should/shouldn't celebrate Christmas in our churches. One argument is that the bible doesn't specifically tell us to celebrate Jesus' birthday. This is one reason the Puritans didn't celebrate Christmas. However, the bible also doesn't tell us to celebrate Easter and Christ's Resurrection, either. I believe that God gives us freedom to celebrate His birth and His death/resurrection in a way that honors him.

Along the same line is the argument that December 25 is not Jesus' birthday. While this is probably true, again I think that celebrating and meditating on what Jesus' birth means to us as Christians is God glorifying regardless of the day. Also, December 25th was the date of the winter solstice on the Julian calendar. Because the Julian calendar lost one day every 128 years, Christmas was on December 22nd in 325 A.D. and by 1582 it had moved to December 12th. Pope Gregory restored the date of Christmas to December 25. So, we celebrate Christmas on December 25 for the same reason that the holiday began in the first place. Early Christians were hoping to convert the unsaved to Christ

One last argument I will share is that Christmas comes from the pagan holiday I spoke of above. In one way this can be seen as true but we can also look at it in the sense that the Christians were trying to combat what was going on in their world. Also, there are alot of things in our world that come from the pagan beliefs of the time. Our days of the week, for example, are named after various gods. Friday comes from the name if the goddess of love, Fria. Just because we recognize the day as Friday doesn't mean we are worshipping Fria.

I think it all comes down to this - Where your heart is. If we celebrate Jesus' birth in a God - glorifying way, then our God gives us the free will to do so. The bible doesn't give us clear directions about celebrating Christmas. Scripture does, however, give us principles on how we should behave - thus affecting our Christmas celebrations.

Scripture warns us not to be drunkards.......yet many Christmas parties are just another excuse to tie one on.

Scripture has a LOT to say about money and how we use it.........yet many, many people spend way too much and go deeply in debt during Christmas.

Children get caught up with the gifts and the toys and lose sight of the Savior--or worse,never even hear about the Lord as God's gift of His Son that we might have life.

Through the Christmas message, Parents often fail to teach the spirit of giving as an outworking of a relationship with God through faith in Christ, God's gift to the world.

It all comes down to where your heart your treasure in heaven or in all the "stuff" of this season? Celebrate Christ in this Christmas season.


Christi said...

Great post! How is your study going? It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job

Anonymous said...

This sound like a great study... and the perfect time of year to do it...It is important to teach our children the true meaning of CHRISTmas. My aunt only gives her two kids three gifts for Christmas, just like baby Jesus. The are a bit older but thought it was a neat idea.

Tell the girls I said HI and give B a little hug and sniff from me. I love a good baby smell!!
Hope you a all doing good...
Love, Amanda

Beth said...

Thanks for sharing the historical account of Christmas. Too often we celebrate Christmas based on inaccurate information. However, we should enjoy the holiday and share Christ's love at any and every opportunity. Thanks again, Mindy!